Source: Michael Owen Baker/The Los Angeles Times
Source: Michael Owen Baker/The Los Angeles Times

On Monday, two police officers in Whittier, CA were involved in a shooting with a known gang member who was released from prison on parole last week. At approximately 8 a.m., Officers Keith Boyer and Patrick Hazell responded to a traffic collision when they were ambushed by the parolee, who had been involved in the accident.

When officers did arrive, they turned the corner to talk to the suspect who immediately opened fire, striking both officers. They returned fire, striking the suspect.

Officer Boyer, a 28-year-veteran, died as a result of his gunshot wounds. Officer Hazell, who has been with the department the last three years, is in stable condition at University of California Irvine Medical Center.

Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper attributes the death of Officer Boyer to Assembly Bill 109, a state law mandating early release, and Proposition 47, which reduces drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors and makes petty theft charges (anything under $950) a misdemeanor.

“We need to wake up. Enough is enough. You’re passing these propositions, you’re creating these laws. … It’s not good for our community (and) it’s not good for our officers,” Piper said. “You have no idea how it’s changed in the last four years. We have statistics to show it.”

To make matters worse, the gunman is also suspected of killing his cousin in East Los Angeles earlier that morning. The car involved in the accident was spotted at the East Los Angeles scene and the gang member was identified by witnesses as the suspect.

Signed into law in 2011, AB 109 mandated “realignment,” which shifted nonviolent offenders from state prisons to county jails, or placed them on probation under county supervision rather than parole under state supervision. It was a response to a U.S. Supreme Court order declaring the condition of California’s overcrowded prisons as violating the constitutional rights of inmates.

Citing concerns raised about AB 109 and other criminal justice reforms aimed at alleviating prison and jail crowding, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called for an investigation into the criminal and probation background of Mejia on the county and state levels.

“There are a lot of questions. I think we need to find out the facts and look at if there was a failure of protocol in the result of the tragic death of Keith Boyer,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, during the board’s Tuesday meeting.

Of note, AB 109 was signed into law by none other than gun control advocate Jerry Brown just months after taking over the Governorship from Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, it was “one of the most significant changes to California corrections in decades. Public Safety Realignment shifted responsibility for people convicted of certain non-serious, nonviolent or non-sex felony offenses from state prisons and parole to county jail and probation. Realignment also established a permanent funding stream for counties to be used at their discretion to implement their new responsibilities under Public Safety Realignment.”

In 2010, the suspected Whittier cop killer was convicted of robbery and sentenced to four years in prison. He received two years for his 2014 grand theft auto conviction. According to Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homocide Bureau, the suspect was released from the California Department of Corrections in April 2016 after a grand theft auto conviction in 2014. When the officer-involved shooting took place, the suspect was under Los Angeles County supervision because he was deemed a “nonviolent offender.”

In his case, the paroled shooter had been arrested five times in the past seven months for parole violations while under the supervision of county officials. Each time he was only held for nine or ten days before being released and no additional charges were filed.

When authorities are soft on crime, criminals never serve hard time, and that only served to give a criminal the opportunity to take the life of a good man.